The lure of a Democratic Presidential nominee and his wife wasn’t enough to draw some celebrities to Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall on Monday, Sept. 20. Sprite-like actress Sarah Michelle Gellar was being honored at Redbook magazine’s annual “Mothers and Shakers” luncheon for her work with Project Angel Food, but canceled at the last minute due to a “late-breaking work commitment.” Meanwhile, Jamie-Lynn DiScala, who’s received accolades for speaking openly about her battle with anorexia, missed her red-eye flight due to late-night post-Emmy partying (The Sopranos won for Outstanding Drama Series). Somewhat appropriately, her mother, Connie Sigler, accepted the award on Ms. DiScala’s behalf.
Surprise celebrity guest Dylan McDermott made an 11th-hour appearance as a guest presenter. He gamely showed up the day after James Spader won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, the same honor that Mr. McDermott was nominated for in 1999, before he was replaced by Mr. Spader last year. He looked natty in a pinstripe suit and was sporting Abe Lincoln–like facial hair.
“My stepmother, Eve Ensler, was definitely the most influential woman in my life growing up,” he told The Transom. The playwright/activist married Richard McDermott in 1978 and adopted his 18-year-old son when she was only 26. She soon convinced the troubled youth to quit drinking and to study acting at Fordham University. She made such an impact in her stepson’s life that he changed his given name from Mark after his stepmother miscarried a baby boy she’d already named Dylan.
Recently, the Vagina Monologues creator has been expressing support for the Presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry, who was delivering the keynote address that afternoon. While Mr. McDermott helped open the Democratic National Convention in 2000, he’s recently flip-flopped on the idea of using his celebrity status to further his own political agenda. “It’s a tricky thing. It’s hard, because you want to get the vote out and help the cause, but you still want people to accept you as an actor. So it’s a fine line,” he said. Kerry-campaigning actors Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio should not expect to count the actor among their fans. “I like to see actors and not know anything about them, just have them disappear into their role.”
The actor looked like he wanted to disappear a moment later when a travel writer for the New York Post tried to ask him about the best vacation he ever took. “No, we’re not doing this!” his publicist said brusquely, immediately pulling him away.
Uma Thurman, who’d just arrived waving out of the passenger side of a black S.U.V., paused to consider the question. “I don’t know—I’ve taken a lot of great vacations!” she said. This year, they included jaunts to the French Riviera and Shelter Island’s Sunset Beach, where she was often photographed frolicking in the sand with beau Andre Balazs. But the mother of two maintained: “The best vacation is always going home!”
Later, before the six-foot actress made her acceptance speech, she kicked the extra step at the bottom of the podium out of the way. “I don’t need this!” she laughed. “It’s tough being such a looming creature!”
Honoree Theresa Heinz Kerry was exuding a much softer image than the spitfire persona she’s been projecting throughout the campaign. On her way to the stage, she stopped to kiss her husband; when she finally took her place behind the podium to discuss her philanthropic efforts, her voice was decidedly soft-spoken. “I’m not normally speechless, but I’m humbled,” she mumbled at the beginning of her oration.
She was followed by her husband, who was scheduled to deliver the afternoon’s keynote address. As Senator Kerry made his way to the stage from his table full of reps from Estée Lauder and L’Oréal, a tuba-like sound filled the room from the chairs collectively scraping back as everyone got to their feet. Trying to ingratiate himself with the estrogen-heavy crowd, he told the women that one of his aides had assured him, “Don’t worry, you’re having a good hair day!”
He then delivered a meandering speech imploring the crowd to use “common sense” when voting in the next election. But there was one interesting omission—although his aides said that Mr. Kerry would cite his long record of supporting abortion rights at the event, the candidate never did mention the word. At the most, he criticized an “ideological rigidity” which didn’t allow international clinics funded with U.S. aid to tell their patients about their range of “options.”
That didn’t prevent the pro-Kerry crowd from eagerly touting the grim-faced candidate, asking questions prefaced with the line, “Mr. Kerry, when you take office in January …. “
Tales Out of School
On Sept. 7, troupes of polo-shirt- and blue-blazer-clad élèves returned for the second full year in the Lycée Français de New York’s angular new school building at 505 East 75th Street. As the students began the academic year inside the 158,000-square-foot structure, which replaced the school’s collection of gilded (if not fusty) Upper East Side townhouses, parents continued to spar with the Lycée’s board and administration following nearly two years of strained relations over the financing and construction of the Descartes-inspired building. The controversial plan—which involved floating three I.D.A. bonds underwritten by J.P. Morgan worth $94.1 million (and which, over 30 years, will result in a total of $195.7 million in debt, including principal and interest), as well as funds from the sale of the Francophone institution’s six townhouses, which traded for about half of the original listing price—ignited a crise within the insular French expatriate community that played out in the pages of Paris Match and landed on the floor of the French Senate in Paris. Lycée parents feared that the aggressive financing plan—which is dependent on yearly revenue increases of 8 percent—would likely result in tuition hikes.
Now, according to sources familiar with the school, only days into the new academic year, a group of parents have become alarmed at statements found within the Lycée’s Parent Handbook, a copy of which was obtained by The Observer, and have reported their problems with the handbook’s language to the New York State Association of Independent Schools. The statement in question read: “While parents may not agree with every decision the school makes, enough common ground can usually be found to continue a mutually respectful relationship. In the extreme case where an impasse is reached whereby the parent cannot remain a constructive member of the community, the Lycée reserves the right to remove the child from the school.”
According to sources, parents believed that this provision could scuttle opposition to the board’s decisions, for fear of having their children removed from the school.
In response to the statement, according to sources, a group of parents sent a pair of letters addressed to Frederick Calder, the executive director of the New York State Association of Independent Schools, and Debra Wilson, the legal counsel at the National Association of Independent Schools in Washington, D.C., to voice their concerns that the handbook’s provisions could be used to pressure parents into hiding their objections to the board’s actions.
Mr. Calder at NYAIS replied to the Lycée parents with a letter dated Sept. 15, stating that he saw “nothing dangerous or particularly usual about the LFNY’s statement in the Parent Handbook,” and that it is “normal and has been for years for independent schools to include in their enrollment agreements that are signed by both parents a clause stating that the school reserves the right to sever its connection with the family if the school believes it is in its best interests.” He also said “independent schools have a contractual relationship with families, not a constitutional one.”
Mr. Calder was traveling and unavailable for comment by press time. Likewise, Yves Thézé, the Lycée’s head of school, didn’t return calls for comment; and Antoinette Fleisch, the wife of former Vivendi Universal mogul Jean-Marie Messier, who was elected to head the Lycée’s Parents Association in June, didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment.
But the continued têtê-à-têtê at the school—which, since its founding in 1935, has seen Philippe de Montebello, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Michel David-Weill, the chairman of Lazard Freres; the novelist Danielle Steel; and the daughter of über-chef Daniel Boulud walk through the school’s tradition-filled halls and rooms, such as the Salle d’Honneur—comes at a time when some members in the New York French community are still smarting over the Lycée’s sale of its gilded townhouses at a steep discount from the price at which the buildings were first listed in August 2000 with Massey Knakal Realty. The Lycée had hoped to secure more than $100 million to fund the new school; the mansions were sold for a total of $58.4 million when the Emir of Qatar purchased the last of the Lycée’s buildings at 7-9 East 72nd Street in the summer of 2002 for $26 million.
And now the Carhart Mansion at 3 East 95th Street—one of the Lycée’s former landmarked Carnegie Hill properties, which is undergoing a luxurious renovation into four private condos—is listing for a combined $61.3 million with Carrie Chiang of the Corcoran Group.
The late Sol Goldman, who was the biggest landlord in the city during the 1970’s, might have relished the irony. His widow, Lillian, inherited one-third of his $1 billion fortune before dying of pancreatic cancer two years ago, and lived for many years in a six-room apartment at the Hotel Carlyle. Since last September, the couple’s children have been trying to unload Apartment 602/603-4 but have not found a buyer, claiming in a recent lawsuit that the hotel trashed the place, treating it like a garbage dump. In the suit filed in New York State Supreme Court last week, Jane, Allan and Amy Goldman and Diane Goldman Kemper are seeking damages of $2.3 million plus maintenance costs against the hotel. According to the suit, in late 2003 or early 2004, the hotel used the apartment to store chairs, lamps, boxes, wood, ladders, large crates, phone books, plants, metal objects, umbrellas and other garbage, illegally using it as a “storage dump/bin” and thus preventing the children from showing it to potential buyers.
Mrs. Goldman, a philanthropist whose $20 million gift to Yale Law School was, at the time, the biggest donation ever given to a law school, was known for her jewelry collection of earrings, necklaces, rings and watches from Tiffany, Harry Winston and Laurence Graff. Some of the pieces from her collection, including Metamorphosis, a diamond necklace with a yellow 67.87-carat diamond pendant, were auctioned off for $14.6 million at Christie’s last year.
The kids are not new to courtroom drama—after their father died in 1987, they waged a fierce battle against their mother, during which they questioned her sanity, denied that she helped their father accumulate his real-estate fortune, and claimed that she wasn’t entitled to the estate—which comprised 270 properties, including the Hyde Park and Stanhope hotels—because she lived apart from him during his final years. “It was a power struggle,” Mrs. Goldman told The Times. “They were fighting to follow their father, to be in control of everything. I was fighting for what I earned.” Eventually a Surrogate Court judge ruled in Mrs. Goldman’s favor, upholding her claim to one-third of the estate based on a handwritten agreement she’d worked out with her husband in 1984 to avoid a divorce.
Reps for the Carlyle declined to comment.